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UNITED NATIONS: United State Fears it May Lose Top Post at UNDP

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 14 1996 (IPS) - The United States fears it may lose the top post in one of the world’s largest multilateral development aid agencies, if its funding continues to decline significantly next year.

The job that is up for grabs is that of administrator of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the largest provider of grant funding for development.

U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright said she wants Washington to provide at least 79 million dollars for UNDP next year, an increase of 52 million dollars over 1996. Any drastic cuts in funding, she warns, could jeopardize the administrator’s job currently held by U.S. national Gus Speth.

The 1996 U.S. funding level was one of the lowest ever, and about 50 percent less than the 113 million dollars provided UNDP in 1995.

“The reduction undermines the leadership of UNDP Administrator Gus Speth, an American who has been highly responsive to our concerns about improving the quality, value and accountability of U.N. programmes,” Albright said.

Addressing a recent meeting of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, Albright hinted the U.S. may lose the post to an European, if U.S. funding continues to decline.

“And it could put at risk continued American leadership at UNDP when Speth’s term expires next year,” she said.

Speth, who holds the rank of under secretary-general, is also the Special Coordinator for Economic and Social Development in the U.N.system, a post to which he was appointed by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1993.

The UNDP, which has a staff of about 60,000 worldwide, serves a network of more than 130 field offices, 95 percent of which are in developing nations.

The U.S., which has been the largest single contributor to the United Nations, and virtually all of its agencies, has wielded tremendous political clout purely on the strength of its contribution, as much as 25 percent of U.N. budgets.

As a result of the 50 percent reduction in funding in 1996, the U.S. has descended from first to seventh on the list of donors to UNDP programmes.

Japan, which provided 101 million dollars, is expected to jump into first place followed closely by Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, and the Netherlands.

The Washington Post Monday quoted an unnamed Dutch newspaper as saying that the Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation Jan Pronk may make a bid to grab Speth’s job when his term expires at the end of 1997.

Pronk, a former deputy secretary-general of the Geneva-based U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), is said to have the backing of the Nordic countries for the UNDP post, according to the newspaper.

“The U.S. will fight to keep the position, but U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright warned the Senate last week that without cash, there may be no job,” the Post said.

Jeff Laurenti of the United Nations Association of USA, a New York-based non-governmental organisation, said that Albright made a very strong case against funding cuts.

“It was an uphill task,” he said, because the current Republican-controlled Congress is not supportive of U.S. assistance for development programmes. “They detest development aid and they detest the poor,” Laurenti told IPS.

He pointed out that Congress has also drastically reduced funding for the U.S. Agency for International Development. “These are not popular programmes in Congress,” he added.

Laurenti concurred with Albright’s warning that the job of UNDP administrator, traditionally held by a U.S. national, may go to a European if Washington cuts back its contribution.

Last year the 15-member European Union made a strong bid for the post of executive director U.N. Children’s Fund on the ground that its collective contribution to that agency exceeded the 100 million dollars given annually by the United States.

But the EU lost the battle when Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali decided to appoint Carol Bellamy, a U.S. national, as head of UNICEF, continuing a monopoly on the post that the United States has held since the agency was created after World War II.

On the strength of its financial contributions, the U.S. currently also holds the top positions in three other U.N. bodies: the World Food Programme, the Universal Postal Union and the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

The United States currently holds more jobs in the U.N. Secretariat than any other member state. At the same time, Washington also is the biggest single defaulter, owing more than 1.3 billion dollars to the world body.

Albright told the Senate committee that UNDP programmes focus on assistance to emerging nations, countries recovering from crisis, and nations working to avoid social, political and economic disintegration.

“These programmes promote free-market reform, privatisation, job creation, democracy, the environment, the advancement of women and peace — all of which contribute to American interests and reflect our values,” she said.

UNDP expenditures in the United States usually exceed the amount of the U.S. annual contributions, Albright noted. In 1995, the Washington contributed 113 million dollars to UNDP’s core budget, while UNDP spent more than 200 million dollars in the United States, she said.

Albright said “it is no accident” that at a meeting of the UNDP executive board in Geneva last month, several European representatives brought up the possibility of moving the UNDP’s headquarters out of New York.

A few years ago Germany offered Bonn as a site for UNDP headquarters, along with free residential facilities for staffers, but due to U.S. pressure the offer was turned down.

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